Mark Wood made an explosive return after maiden Twenty20 International half-centuries for Harry Brook and Ben Duckett as England thrashed Pakistan by 63 runs to take a 2-1 series lead.

Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan starred in a record-breaking 10-wicket win for Pakistan at the National Stadium in Karachi on Thursday, but the tourists responded in emphatic fashion at the same venue 24 hours later.

Brook (81 not out off 35 balls) and Duckett (70no from 42) put on 139 in a sublime unbroken fourth-wicket stand to get England up to an imposing 221-3.

Pakistan fell short on 158-8, Wood taking 3-25 in his first match for six months following two elbow operations, with a first T20I half-century for Shan Masood (66no from 40) in vain.

Will Jacks, in for Alex Hales, struck an impressive 40 off 22 balls after Babar put England in, before Usman Qadir (2-48) got rid of the debutant and Dawid Malan (14). 

England were 82-3 when Jacks departed, but Duckett and Brook combined for a match-winning stand to silence the crowd a day after Babar and Rizwan put on a show.

The right and left-hand combination showed the tourists' strength in depth with the bat as the Pakistan bowlers were unable to contain them.

Babar and Rizwan could not repeat their heroics from the previous day, when they put on 203, the hostile Wood dismissing the captain for eight and Haider Ali for just three.

Reece Topley cleaned up Rizwan in a nightmare start to Pakistan's run chase and Adil Rashid took 2-32 as Babar's side never looked like chasing down their target despite the best efforts of Masood.

Brook and Duckett come to the fore

Big things are expected of Brook, who made his Test debut against South Africa at The Oval this month, and the 23-year-old showed precisely why as he made a brilliant maiden half-century for his country.

He struck five sixes and eight fours, timing the ball sweetly as he piled on the runs on both sides of the wicket and facing only 24 balls for his fifty.

Duckett played the spinners superbly, sweeping with authority to bring up his half-century from just 31 balls.

Wood back with a bang

The luckless Wood had been out since March due to more injury woes, but generated blistering pace and looked like he had never been away.

Wood claimed the huge wicket of Babar, caught on the boundary by Topley from a searing delivery, and saw the back of Haider in a breathtaking opening burst, then returning to remove Haris Rauf in the penultimate over.

Ciro Immobile joined Italy's injury list ahead of Friday's Nations League encounter with England.

The Lazio striker has suffered a muscle injury and was not included in the Azzurri's squad list for the game at San Siro.

Midfielder Sandro Tonali left the European champions' training camp on the day of the match as he has not recovered from an injury.

Coach Roberto Mancini will also be without the likes of Marco Verratti, Matteo Politano, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Davide Calabria.

Italy will remain in contention for the Nations League Finals if they come out on top in a repeat of last year's Euro 2020 final.

England, bottom of Group 3, will be relegated from League A if they are beaten in Milan.

Gareth Southgate insists England "need commitment from everyone" ahead of their crucial Nations League Group A3 clash with Italy.

The Three Lions are on the brink of relegation from League A, having collected just two points from their opening four games, suffering a humbling 4-0 defeat to Hungary last time out.

England would drop into League B if they fail to win at San Siro, where Southgate says it will be a "great honour" for his squad to play as they look to build momentum ahead of the World Cup.

"This is a very important tournament, and we have already faced two very strong teams," he said. "We have already played against Italy, we know how formidable the players are.

"We need to improve after the latest results and in view of the World Cup, doing it here at San Siro - in an iconic stadium - will be a great honour.

"We analysed everything and tried to understand why there were these bad results after 22 games without a defeat. We need commitment from everyone, and we are focusing on this; we are making sure that the team can train in the best possible way."

Southgate, who revealed Jordan Henderson would be available to face the reigning European champions, also underlined his stance on the OneLove initiative.

Qatar has faced external criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, as well as its record on women's rights and treatment of LGBTQ people.

Human rights campaigner Amnesty International has called for migrant workers to be compensated for "suffering endured" in Qatar during preparations for the World Cup, calling for FIFA to support a 'remediation programme' and warning of the prospect of the tournament being "indelibly tainted by human rights abuses".

Southgate said: "I have observed and studied this situation closely. I have documented myself with experts who deal with this and the FA has also done a lot.

"Some demands have been made, there are already some hypotheses on the table and there is already an agreement with seven European nations to maintain this debate.

"I know that there is a need to talk about these issues, after all we hope for a change in that country even if everything is not under our control.

"We will not be able to do everything we want, there are limits, but talking is important. The criticisms are there, we must accept them, but we are doing our best."

Roberto Mancini believes reaching the Nations League Finals could help to ease the "suffering" coming Italy's way when the World Cup begins.

Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in succession, with their disappointment magnified this time after they won the delayed Euro 2020 in July 2021 but then flopped in the final stages of Qatar 2022 qualifying.

On Friday, the Azzurri tackle England in Milan, a repeat meeting of the European final that Italy won on penalties at Wembley.

The teams have met since that occasion, slogging out a goalless draw at Molineux in June in their initial Nations League clash.

Mancini is hoping this latest reunion stirs something in his players that carries them to victory, given they have ground to make up on Hungary and Germany in Group A3, where England sit surprisingly bottom after four games. The Finals will be contested next June.

“There is enthusiasm for such a beautiful match and something that gives us a reminder," Mancini said. "I think winning the European Championship after 50 years was quite important.

"Getting to the Finals would give us joy, since from mid-November to mid-December there will be suffering.

"Tomorrow we have a very tough match against one of the best teams in the world, full of talents. We will need that team spirit that has always distinguished us. And then we will have to try to play well. Playing in a simple way is always the best thing."

Italy are without the injured Marco Verratti, Sandro Tonali, Matteo Politano and Lorenzo Pellegrini, but even with his midfield resources stretched, Mancini seemingly ruled out a change of system.

"If changing the game system ensured victory, then we would always change it. I don't think it changes much," he said. "Our national team has an identity that is what has led us to do well for a long time."

The game will see Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci line up against England once more, having scored the equaliser that preceded Italy's penalty shoot-out success at Wembley in last year's Euros.

Excluding penalty shoot-outs, England have only lost two of their past 26 matches, both against Hungary in June 2022 (W18 D6). The Three Lions are winless in four matches, however (D2 L2), last having a longer winless run in June 2014 (five matches), with one of those games being a 2-1 defeat to Italy at the World Cup.

Bonucci is hoping Italy can harness memories of Wembley to boost their prospects at San Siro.

The Italians need a pick-me-up after conceding 13 goals in their previous seven matches, including a 5-2 mauling by Germany last time out, the first time the Azzurri had shipped five in a game since a 1957 game against Yugoslavia. Italy had conceded only 15 goals in their previous 40 games before the recent sharp decline.

Bonucci said: “We must not forget the beautiful emotions we experienced. I believe that this national team does not lack enthusiasm, even if it must be amplified with victories.

"Tomorrow is an important match to understand where we are on this new path. There is no better match than this to build something important."

England captain Harry Kane hopes to spread a "broader message" to make a "step forward" at the Qatar World Cup, where the striker and nine other skippers will wear anti-discrimination armbands.

The Three Lions forward has joined with captains from the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Wales as part of the OneLove initiative.

As England prepare to face Italy and Germany in the Nations League, Kane's decision to promote the movement to empower inclusion and diversity was the main talking point.

A distinctive heart-adorned armband will show England's stand against discriminatory practice in Qatar, where same-sex relationships and promotion of same-sex relationships are criminalised. 

"I talked to some captains on the human rights issue in Qatar, surely if we act together we can bring a broader message," Kane told reporters.

"The players can do a lot given the importance of the World Cup, we hope to make a step forward on this front."

England cannot reach the Nations League finals after disappointing in Group C1, with Gareth Southgate's side having gone winless in their first four games.

Defeat to Italy, who played out a goalless draw in the reverse fixture at Molineux, would condemn England to relegation on Friday and Kane knows it is vital his side must return to winning ways.

"Certainly determination characterises us, we have to get back to playing well," he added. "For four years we have been formidable and we know that the last few matches in June were not positive, but we are preparing to better manage the two months remaining until the World Cup.

"Tomorrow's match will not be easy at all, but we want to win this race to also improve for the World Cup."

Italy will not feature at the World Cup in November after missing out on a second straight edition of the global competition following play-off defeat to North Macedonia.

With Germany to follow for England after their clash in Milan, Kane insists the challenges against Roberto Mancini's side and Hansi Flick's team will provide a marker for the upcoming World Cup.

"We played against the best teams and tomorrow we will play again against one of them," he continued.

"Tomorrow's match will be very useful for the World Cup, we must try to impose our game and it will help us to practice at our best.

"We talked within the team about this possible relegation, but there are still two games. Relegation is possible, but it must not affect the determination with which we will take the field."

Babar Azam became the first Pakistan player to score two Twenty20 International centuries as they levelled the series with a record-breaking 10-wicket win over England.

The tourists looked to have given themselves a great chance of going 2-0 up by posting 199-5 at the National Stadium in Karachi on Thursday, but Babar and Rizwan stole the show with a stunning world record stand in a T20I run chase of 203.

Shahnawaz Dahani (2-37) struck twice in as many balls to get rid of Alex Hales (26) and Dawid Malan (0) before Phil Salt fell for 30, with Moeen Ali having won the toss and elected to bat first.

Ben Duckett hit a quickfire 43 and Harry Brook a brisk 31, with stand-in captain Moeen then blasting an unbeaten 55 from only 23 deliveries to set Pakistan 200 to win, Haris Rauf taking 2-30 from his four overs.

Skipper Babar and Rizwan showed their class as they brought up a century stand in just 69 balls, Hales left to rue dropping the wicketkeeper-batter on 23 as he made a third consecutive half-century.

The prolific Babar brought up his hundred in the 18th over and finished unbeaten on 110 from 66 balls in a masterclass, with the in-form Rizwan 88 not out off 51 deliveries as England were left not knowing what had him them.

Babar cleared the rope six five times and hit 11 fours, while Rizwan launched four sixes and five fours as they showed a combination of timing and power.

Babar reaches another milestone in style

The incredible Babar surged past the 8,000-run mark in T20s in his latest masterful knock. He reached that milestone in his 218 innings, with only Chris Gayle (213) needing fewer to rack up 8,000.

He also now holds the record for the most centuries as Pakistan captain with 10 ahead of the great Inzamam-ul-Haq.

Moeen fireworks in vain, Duckett catches the eye

While England were unable to make an impact in the field due to the brilliant of Pakistan's openers, they impressed with the bat.

Moeen hit four sixes and as many fours, while Duckett looked in great touch before he departed when well set, hitting seven boundaries.

Everyone is presumably looking forward to more talk of football "coming home" when the World Cup kicks off in November, with England among the favourites to win the tournament for the first time since 1966.

However, the Three Lions have had a stinker of a Nations League campaign in 2022, having failed to win any of their four games in June.

A 1-0 defeat in Hungary was followed by a draw in Germany thanks to a late Harry Kane penalty, before a dull 0-0 at Molineux against Italy and an abysmal performance in their 4-0 defeat to Hungary at the same venue.

Three months on from that chastening loss in Wolverhampton, manager Gareth Southgate picked his squad for the final two Nations League games against Italy and Germany, and while there was a new face in Brentford striker Ivan Toney, it was otherwise more of the same, with some notable absentees too.

In February, Southgate said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph: "I'm very conscious I've got to get the balance right because ultimately my responsibility is to produce a winning England team.

"I never pick on reputation; form has to come into it. You have to look at the opposition and the type of game you're expecting and select the players best suited to that."

It therefore raised some eyebrows when some players who have subjectively been somewhat out of form in the opening weeks of the season, and who were at the scene of the crime in previous disappointing England results, kept their places ahead of others who have stepped up their game domestically in recent weeks.

Stats Perform has taken a look at some who were perhaps lucky to get another call, and others unfortunate to miss out in the last Three Lions squad before the World Cup.

Who made it?

Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw

It makes sense to pair the two Manchester United defenders, as the reasons why they can consider themselves lucky to keep their international places are essentially the same.

Maguire and Shaw received their fair share of blame for United's poor showings in recent years, and it came to a head in the 4-0 defeat at Brentford in the second game of this season's Premier League campaign, having already lost at home to Brighton and Hove Albion.

New boss Erik ten Hag dropped both after that, and United have won four from four in the league since.

Left-back Shaw has been reduced to occasional substitute appearances after losing his starting spot to young Dutchman Tyrell Malacia, while Maguire has been ousted by France centre-back Raphael Varane.

The only game in the past five Maguire has started was at home to Real Sociedad in the Europa League, which United lost 1-0.

That is not to say the duo are solely responsible for the insipid showings from their team, but it also doesn't feel like purely coincidence Ten Hag's men's results immediately improved without them.

 

Jarrod Bowen

This might be a little harsh as Bowen was being championed by everyone to be included on form last season, which he was, featuring in all four Nations League games in June.

However, having scored 18 goals in 51 games in all competitions last season for West Ham, Bowen has managed just two in 10 this season, both of which have come in the Europa Conference League.

The Hammers have struggled for form this season, sitting in 18th place after seven games, so it would be unfair to blame Bowen, but he also failed to make much of an impact in any of his England appearances.

The door certainly should not be shut on an undoubtedly talented player, but it seems odd to see him back with the national team after a noticeable drop in form at a time when others in his position are excelling.

Jack Grealish

Arguably the player who causes most debate in England, Grealish will always feel too talented to leave out.

Comparisons to Paul Gascoigne seem lazy, but it's hard not to resort to them when you see him at his best, able to turn a game on his own if he finds that spark almost all other players lack.

Grealish had a poor first season at Manchester City, though, recording just 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) in 39 games.

He scored and played well in the 3-0 win at Wolves last weekend, but it was his first goal involvement in six appearances this season, and while he is clearly capable of being a key part of Southgate's team on his day, his form arguably does not justify inclusion at the moment.

 

Who missed out?

Ben White

The Arsenal defender is a difficult one to champion, frankly, because it's not clear what position you would be arguing for.

White did not really blow anyone away at centre-back in his first season with the Gunners but has thrived at right-back in Mikel Arteta's system so far this campaign.

If Southgate is to go back to his favoured three-at-the-back formation, White on the right of that would make sense, albeit Kyle Walker probably has the shirt right now.

White is improving all the time, though, and has played a big part in Arsenal winning six of their first seven Premier League games, and his versatility would be a bonus.

James Maddison

Possibly the man most justified in feeling miffed at missing out as, unlike the other three in this list, Maddison is rarely ever seen in an England squad, despite his output at club level.

Although he has been named in squads before, Maddison has just one cap, which came when he played 35 minutes against Montenegro in November 2019.

Like Grealish, Maddison can be seen as enigmatic, but his recent form for Leicester City speaks for itself.

He has been directly involved in 24 Premier League goals since the start of last season (15 goals, nine assists). The only English player with more in this time is Harry Kane (33) having made three more appearances than Maddison (44 to 41).

Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford

As their United team-mates were paired up, it makes sense to do the same here, and because their turn around in form has synced up as the Red Devils have won five of their past six games.

Sancho struggled to make an impact in his first season back in England, with just eight goal involvements (five goals, three assists) in 38 games.

However, this season he already has three goals in eight matches, showing glimpses of his Borussia Dortmund form.

Rashford ended a run of 997 minutes without a goal in all competitions for Manchester United when he scored against Liverpool in August, and netted another two against Arsenal as his scoring touch returned at Old Trafford.

The duo were a part of England's squad that reached the final of Euro 2020, but both also played a part in the penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.

That does not mean they cannot be of use in Qatar, and it would seem foolish of Southgate to ignore players already proven at international level who seem to be peaking at just the right time for a mid-season tournament.

 

Ultimately, as Southgate said, it is his job to build a team he thinks can win games. It is hard to argue with a record that has seen England reach the final four of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020.

He also said "form has to come into it" rather than it being the be all and end all.

Rather than "reputation", perhaps Southgate is just picking players he knows, therefore allowing him full awareness of what he is going to get if he selects them. Heading into a World Cup is not really the time to be introducing unknown quantities.

The likes of White and Maddison will be well within their rights to blame the former Middlesbrough boss for them continuing to be relatively unknown to him, though.

England have joined a host of other nations in pledging to their allegiance to the OneLove campaign against discrimination ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

The Three Lions will join the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland and Wales in supporting an initiative designed to promote inclusion before and during this year's tournament.

Starting with their UEFA Nations League trip to Italy on September 23, captain Harry Kane will wear a distinctive heart-adorned armband to show the team's stand against discriminatory practice.

Kane will be among the skippers who will also have the OneLove armband on in Qatar, where same-sex relationships and promotion of same-sex relationships are criminalised. 

"I am honoured to join my fellow national team captains in supporting the important OneLove campaign," Kane said.

"As captains we may all be competing against each other on the pitch, but we stand together against all forms of discrimination.

"This is even more relevant at a time when division is common in society. Wearing the armband together on behalf of our teams will send a clear message when the world is watching."

Sweden and Norway, who have not qualified for the World Cup, will back the campaign during this month's Nations League matches.

Both Manuel Neuer and Leon Goretzka have been withdrawn from the Germany squad ahead of their two upcoming Nations League fixtures.

The Bayern Munich duo tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday and have since been in isolation and left the team hotel.

The German Football Association (DFB) stated: "Due to a positive coronavirus test within one of the players' private circles, the medical team conducted a rapid antigen test on the whole nation team.

"All members of the coaching staff and the team are required to test negative before travelling. Confirmed contact of both players will be tested daily."

Germany play Hungary on Friday and England on Monday, and coach Hansi Flick will no doubt feel the strain of missing such vital players from his squad.

Goalkeeper and captain Neuer has been replaced by Hoffenheim's Oliver Baumann, with Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Eintracht Frankfurt's Kevin Trapp counted among Flick's other options in goal.

The DFB was yet to confirm the identity of any additions in Goretzka's place, although Flick still has the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Ilkay Gundogan and Thomas Muller at his disposal.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has confirmed the schedule for the men's and women's Ashes series in 2023, including a five-day Test for the latter.

Australia's men will start their defence of the urn at Edgbaston on June 16 and the five-match series will end earlier than usual at The Oval in a finale that will be staged from July 27-31.

Ben Stokes' England side will also face their fierce rivals at Lord's from June 28 to July 1, Headingley (July 6-10) and Old Trafford (July 19-23).

The five-day contest between England's women and the tourists will start at Trent Bridge on June 22, and will be only the second women's Test of that length ever after the same two countries played at the North Sydney Oval in 1992.

A multi-format series, the women's Ashes will see the Test match account for four points, while there will also be three ODIs and three T20Is, each worth two points.

The T20Is will be played at Edgbaston, Lord's and The Oval, the first time the venues will have hosted women's Ashes games in the format.

Alex Hales described his return to the England team as "a dream come true" that "felt like a debut again".

After not being selected for more than three years, the big hitter made a hugely successful comeback in the international game against Pakistan in Tuesday's T20I opener.

Hales scored 53 runs off 40 deliveries and built a vital 55-run partnership with youngster Harry Brook as England chased down Pakistan's total of 158 to win by six wickets with four balls to spare.

The Nottinghamshire opener has continued to impress in franchise cricket in recent years, but he had not featured for his country since a recreational drugs ban ahead of the 2019 Cricket World Cup, which England won.

However, with Jonny Bairstow injured and Jason Roy in poor form, Jos Buttler brought Hales back into the fold for this tour.

And speaking after the opening victory, Hales was understandably delighted with his return to the international stage.

"It's a very special feeling to be back out on the park for England," he said. "Three years felt like forever. To go out and score fifty on my return, in a winning team, is the stuff dreams are made of.

"Guys have said in the past that it was never down to cricket why I missed the three years. That was never in doubt. But there were always nerves and pressure coming back after three years.

"It felt like a debut again... it feels like a dream come true to come back and contribute with a half-century in a winning team."

Of his performance, Hales added: "[It] was all about getting over the line. I wasn't quite at my fluent best, but to get fifty and steer us in the right direction meant a lot.

"There are lots of times in T20 where you don't quite feel on top of your game and you're a little bit scratchy. But the deeper you take it, the more fluent the innings becomes.

"I got a couple of boundaries away towards the end and killed the game with Harry.

"I was trying to hit boundaries; it just didn't quite happen for some reason. I didn't have quite as much strike as I would have liked. I didn't quite manage to get going in the powerplay, but that can happen.

"I still managed to dig deep and steer us in the right direction for the win."

With the T20 World Cup around the corner, Hales will look to impress in this series against Pakistan to secure his position as one of England's premier limited-overs openers. 

This series marks the first time in 17 years England have played in Pakistan, with white-ball captain Buttler no doubt impressed with how his side started despite his absence as all-rounder Moeen Ali led the tourists in Karachi. 

Jack Grealish has defended Gareth Southgate following "very harsh" criticism of the England manager.

Southgate led the Three Lions to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and then the Euro 2020 final, but recent results have been scrutinised.

England have not won any of their past four Nations League games, losing to Hungary twice and drawing with Italy and Germany.

Ahead of return fixtures against Italy and Germany, Southgate has also faced some backlash following the announcement of his latest squad.

Two months out from the World Cup, Southgate, who said in 2017 he would "never pick on reputation", has called up Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, despite the pair losing their places at Manchester United.

But winger Grealish has come to his manager's defence, saying: "I think [the criticism] was harsh.

"[There was] the final last year and [then losing] the Hungary game last camp. I think the last time we lost to a team in 90 minutes [before Hungary] was Belgium in November 2020. 

"I think it was very harsh and especially with the World Cup and the Euros how well the team had done. I thought it was harsh, but sometimes that's what you get if you're English, and I've certainly had my fair share."

And Grealish, who is likely to feature as England travel to Milan to take on European champions Italy on Friday, believes the country will unite behind the team again when the World Cup kicks off.

"If you have a few bad results, people are going to jump off the bandwagon a little bit," he added.

"Before that, everyone was saying how good we are and how well we'd been doing. We hadn't been beat over 90 minutes in so long.

"I wouldn't say we're underdogs, and we know what talent we have in our dressing room.

"One thing I love about these tournaments is how everyone comes together, so I'm sure we'll have their full support, and two months can't come quick enough.

"I hope for myself that I'm playing regularly for Man City and performing, and hopefully I'll be on the plane."

The World Cup in Qatar is now just two months away and the first international break of the season is the final opportunity for squads to convene before coming together for the tournament.

In Europe, the Nations League offers competitive action in the build-up to Qatar, while teams elsewhere will face friendlies.

With a mid-season window and just one break before the action commences in November, it presents a challenge for any new faces to establish themselves in their international side before the squad for the World Cup is selected.

Some have been handed glorious opportunities though and Stats Perform has assessed some of the newcomers.

 

Ivan Toney

England's main striker role is nailed down by skipper Harry Kane but the role of understudy is a competitive one with the likes of Callum Wilson, Tammy Abraham and Ollie Watkins having earned opportunities – and Ivan Toney is the latest to join that list.

Quickly settling into life in the Premier League, Toney netted 12 goals for Brentford in their inaugural campaign last season but has hit new heights in 2022, scoring 13 goals this calendar year.

Toney doesn't just offer goals, though, as he has also contributed seven assists since August 2021, totalling 24 goal involvements (17 goals, 7 assists) in that period, with Kane (31) the only English player to have more in the Premier League.

This season, Toney has five goals and two assists for Brentford, with a tally of seven goal involvements only bettered by Erling Haaland (12) in the Premier League.

Nico Williams

Brother of Inaki Williams, capped once by Spain in a friendly before switching allegiances to Ghana, 20-year-old Nico Williams has been handed a chance by Luis Enrique, who insists the decision is not to ensure he doesn't follow in the footsteps of his sibling.

The right-winger has established himself in Athletic Bilbao's first-team and has made a firm impact this season, scoring twice – including in the recent 3-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano, which marked the first time both he and Inaki had scored in the same match.

Williams' role with Athletic will continue to grow, having only recently become a regular starter for the Basque side towards the end of last season and now starting five of Athletic's six LaLiga matches.

Securing a spot on the plane for Qatar will not be easy considering the vast competition, but Williams may get his opportunity due to his age, with a forward line of the future potentially being created alongside Yeremy Pino and Ferran Torres.

Kenneth Taylor

Only earning his first start for Ajax in the Eredivisie last season, Kenneth Taylor has become a mainstay in the side this term with five starts across six league appearances for the Dutch champions, following Ryan Gravenberch's move to Bayern Munich.

The 20-year-old has grabbed his opportunity with both hands, scoring three goals and contributing two assists in the league. His control on the ball has also been impressive, misplacing 41 of 352 passing attempts in the Eredivisie for an accuracy of 88 per cent.

In the Champions League, Taylor has yet find the net or contribute an assist, but he has caught the eye. In the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool, he won three tackles, the joint-most in the Ajax side, and completed 92 per cent of his passes.

Those performances have earned Taylor a call-up to Louis van Gaal's squad ahead of Gravenberch, who has been capped 10 times by the Netherlands but has found playing time difficult to come by since moving to Bayern.

Enzo Fernandez

Only arriving at Benfica from River Plate ahead of the current season, Enzo Fernandez has quickly made an impression in Portugal, where he was named the Primeira Liga's Midfielder of the Month.

In the third qualifying round of the Champions League, the Argentine struck in both legs against Midtjylland and made a significant impression in the 2-1 group stage win against Juventus – with the most touches (92), pass attempts (71) and accurate passes (68) of his team, as well as the highest pass completion percentage (96%).

He also won 12 duels and won possession on 12 occasions, both tallies that were bettered by none of his team-mates.

His form has already seen him linked with Liverpool, just months after his arrival in European football, and the 21-year-old could be once to watch in Qatar if he secures a seat on the plane.

 

Borja Iglesias

At the age of 29, Borja Iglesias is finally poised to make his international bow with Spain after a sensational calendar year in which he has scored 18 LaLiga goals – with only Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (28) scoring more.

Six of those goals have come in the opening six matches of the 2022-23 season, from which Real Betis have won 15 points to sit behind only Barcelona and Real Madrid in the early-season standings.

Robert Lewandowski (8) is the sole player to score more LaLiga goals than Iglesias this season and he has averaged a goal every 103 minutes, though he is yet to feature in the club's Europa League campaign thus far.

Spain's lack of central striking options may well play into Iglesias' hands in his bid to make the World Cup squad, with the 28-man party for September's Nations League fixtures having only Alvaro Morata as the other natural option through the middle.

Tottenham centre-back Eric Dier heaped praise on coach Antonio Conte for helping to resurrect his international career ahead of the World Cup.

Dier, 28, has 45 senior caps for England since debuting in 2015, but it has been almost two years since he last represented his country in a UEFA Nations League win against Iceland in November 2020.

However, after tallying 35 Premier League appearances this past campaign, Dier has become a crucial part of Conte's three centre-back lineup, playing every minute of Tottenham's seven unbeaten matches this season (5W, 2D).

Speaking to the media about how he feels he has evolved since his last national call-up, Dier gave plenty of credit to Conte for changing the way he approaches his game.

"I don’t want to sound like a teacher’s pet but [Conte] has done a lot for me," he said. "In every way he has done a lot for me. 

"He has had a great effect on me in every aspect. Tactically, physically, mentally. My approach.

"Not just the manager but all his staff. He is very demanding, but I really enjoy that. Ever since he arrived, I have never learnt so much in this year. I don’t think I have learnt as much before as I have now with him.

"He is the godfather of that system so I feel like with him you’re constantly learning and evolving within that system, constantly adding new things – once we learn one thing we’re onto the next. 

"I think he probably gave me my belief back a little bit as well."

Dier took things a step further and said he does not just feel he has recaptured his previous form, but he has now reached a new level.

"I think it was my most difficult season when I did miss out on the Euros, [but] I don’t think it was as bad a season as it is made out to be," he said. "Nowhere near.

"But now I think I’ve reached my best level in my career, not just this season but last season as well. I think I’m getting better and I think I can get better."

With five matches required to bring up his half-century in an England shirt, Dier said he would be lying if it was not on his mind.

"I’ve seen they’ve got a board up now in the reception of the hotel of all the people who have made 50 and 100," he said. "It’s a dream to be able to reach that.

"It would mean a lot. It’s something that when I wasn’t in the squad it was playing on my mind that I was so close to it. That did annoy me. I would love to be able to get to that kind of milestone.

"I’m very happy… I’m very proud of making it back, I just don’t like dramatising it too much. I play football, you know?"

England celebrated the start of their first tour of Pakistan in 17 years with victory in the first of seven T20Is on Tuesday, with Luke Wood and Alex Hales leading the way.

Wood shone on his T20 debut for England with three wickets, while Hales marked his first appearance since March 2019 with a half-century.

The hosts flew out of the blocks to reach 109-1, Mohammed Rizwan scoring 68 off 46 balls, but they added only 49 runs thereafter to finish 158-7, Wood restricting the impact of the lower order by removing Mohammad Nawaz (4), Iftikhar Ahmed (28) and Naseem Shah (0).

England were slow to get going, Phil Salt caught by Haider Ali for just 10 with Dawid Malan (20) and Ben Duckett (21) also quickly dismissed, but a rhythm was found with Alex Hales and Harry Brook in to bat.

Hales struck 53 from 40 balls to put England back in the hunt before he too was caught by Haider, leaving stand-in captain Moeen Ali to come in and help chase the final 17 runs with more than three overs left to play.

It was Brook who hit thew winning runs, though, carving a high full toss over extra cover to bring up his seventh boundary in his 25-ball 42 to propel England to a six-wicket victory.

Hales shines on return

After a three-year absence from the international fold, Hales shone on his return in Karachi to hit a half-century and received a warm reception from the home crowd due to his Pakistan Super League involvement.

His exile in 2019 after failing a drugs test led to captain Eoin Morgan stating he had 'lost the trust' of the team but the performance on Tuesday will have gone a long way in rebuilding that relationship, with Hales showing the potential to be a key player at the T20 World Cup.

Rizwan reaches landmark

Rizwan required 57 runs against England to become the fourth player to hit 2,000 for Pakistan in T20Is and did exactly what was required.

Hitting the landmark on Tuesday, Rizwan tied with Babar Azam as the fastest player to do so, having taken 52 innings.

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